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Archive | Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

No Child Left Inside Part 1

OUT-RangerSteveMuellerBy Ranger Steve Mueller


No child left inside is locally important for all things start at home. I emphasize what people can do to promote healthy nature niches on their property for families and wildlife. Our children are among those that live in our home nature niches.

An organized No Child Left Inside movement has been around for over a century in many forms by different names and sponsors. Field and Stream Clubs across the country have programs where youth get immersed in the outdoors. The emphasis focuses around hunting and fishing with a goal to help youth understand the natural world they depend on for life. They gave me a scholarship to wildlife camp for a week in 1964 where I learned about birds, mammals, fish, outdoor skills, and habitat management.

The National Audubon Society Junior Audubon program takes kids outdoors to experience birds, plants, insects, and all ecology our lives depend upon. The local Junior Audubon is the longest running program in North America according to Grand Rapids Audubon leader Wendy Tatar. My parents subscribed me to Junior Audubon booklets monthly for years that taught about soil, worms, insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, plant communities and the list goes on and on.

4H programs focus primarily on animal husbandry and plant propagation for making ones livelihood but it leads to understanding how all nature’s creatures like soil bacteria and mycorhiza fungus are essential for maintaining a healthy world. Paige Gebhardt, 4H student, graduated salutatorian this year from Cedar Springs High School and will attend Michigan State University studying wildlife programs. She told me this spring she would love to work with wolves and become a wildlife biologist to enhance healthy nature niches essential for the health of our community.

Boy and Girl Scout programs have been among the most influential for my personal development. Boy Scouts got me outside canoeing, camping, hiking, observing with focused activities where I could study the natural world. The leaders often did not have the best nature knowledge but they loved it. By the time I was in high school, scout leaders and other scouts often turned to me with nature questions because I immersed myself in outdoor study. The first nature book I bought with my own money was A Field to the Butterflies, by Alexander Klots. I had been chasing winged jewels for years and wanted better understanding.

The Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) is an organization of outdoor leaders and teachers focused on experiential outdoor recreational activities and for responsible environmental stewardship that is not environmentally destructive. I was president of MAEOE working to lead local communities in Michigan to help return environmental and outdoor education as a priority again in 2007. In 1986, Dale Elshoff and I both moved to Michigan and we were already trained Project WILD facilitators. Together we led the first statewide teacher training in Project WILD to establish it in Michigan. It is a form of no child left inside that teachers and organization leaders use with youth.

It was the beginning of June 2005 when I was called to the Kent ISD office and told to lay off the staff at the Howard Christensen Nature Center on the last day of school. The superintendent told me they were closing HCNC because environmental education was no longer a priority in America. I objected and he commented that he was not saying it was not important but it was no longer a priority in America, Michigan, or our community. There were several people throughout the county that contacted the ISD and even the Grand Rapids Press but environmental education had become a political football instead of a community value so it was closed. The Kent County Soil Conservation District reopened it a year later for two years and then a nonprofit organization called Lily’s Frog Pad assumed management. Their programs and community involvement are growing at HCNC to promote No Child Left Inside.

Next week’s nature niche will focus on the current No Child Left Inside movement.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net or Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Perseid Meteor Shower


I got up about 4 a.m. on a clear black night for the Perseid meteor shower. By the coals of a small campfire I waited. Each year in August, nature’s fireworks celebrate my birthday. In the distant past, a comet traveled through Earth’s August orbit around the sun. Remaining debris in space left by the comet annually drifts into Earth’s orbital path. As the Earth moves through the area, it collides with debris that gets caught in its gravitational pull. Debris falls toward Earth generating heat and light. Most particles are the size of sand grains that heat and light up brightly in a form we call shooting stars.

Two brilliantly bright shooting stars and more normal flashes streaked the sky on my watch. Most traveled from north to south emanating from the Cassiopeia constellation region. Light from each lasted less than a second.

Satellites scurried across the sky shining brighter and dimmer behind invisible moisture. No clouds were present but varying light reflected from the satellites indicated moisture was present to filter light.

I enjoyed the brilliance of constellations and am thankful a dark sky prevails at Ody Brook Sanctuary. Looking southward lights at 14 Mile and Northland Drive obscure good night sky viewing and the same holds true for 17 Mile and US 131. Lights constructed to shine down instead of up light more efficiently, use less energy, and intrude less on night’s beauty. To the south of Ody Brook a house was remolded with mercury vapor light added to come on at dark and go off at daylight. During the winter months it interferes with night sky viewing but in summer tree leaves block its light. New neighbors bought the home last year and I have spoken with them about putting the light on a motion sensor so it is off when not needed. That would save energy and protect night nature niches.

The night sky provides connections with distant places beyond comprehension.  I looked at the Andromeda galaxy. It is the closest galaxy to our Milky Way galaxy and is the only one visible without telescopes. Like our galaxy, it spans a great area and is shaped somewhat like a Frisbee or dinner plate. View yourself on Earth in our solar system in a plate-like galaxy of stars. The sun would be located about 2/3 of the way from the center of the plate. Looking across the length of the plate would be the greatest concentration of stars but most are so distant they appear only as the white glow we know as the “Milky Way.”

Looking upward through the thin depth of the plate we see closer stars as brilliant pinpoints of light. Beyond those are distance stars but not in the abundance seen as we look across the flattened saucer of the Milky Way.

On the 13th I began my birthday celebration watching the Perseid Meteor fireworks, constellations, and a distance home in Andromeda Galaxy. In the 1970’s when I was director of the Environmental Education School at Bryce Canyon National Park, the teachers had a world map and asked children to place pins in locations of their home cities. My friend Bob Raver and I claimed we traveled on a beam of light to take up residence on Earth from Andromeda. The teachers listed Andromeda on the map and we placed our pins there. A news reporter wrote an article about the environmental school and listed places from where people visited including Andromeda. We all know that if it is in the paper it must be true so Bob and I claim Andromeda as a valid previous home.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Love for Life

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Skip has a love for life and spends time nourishing wild creatures in his care with the help of his son and wife. His son was in a serious auto accident 15 years ago and Shawn has required daily living assistance since. Shawn lost the ability to speak and has a number of physical challenges. To help Shawn’s physical rehabilitation, they raise cecropia, polyphemus, and luna moth caterpillars in their backyard.

Collecting fresh leaves for caterpillars is never ending until the moths make cocoons. They raise hundreds of larvae that require fresh food daily. Leaves must not be wilted and of the appropriate kind. Shawn, in his early 30’s, helps collect plants and maintains good livestock cage hygiene.

Many friends across the country raise insects to help replace what appears to be dwindling life on Earth as human population expands. It has been a mystery why giant silk moth populations have declined but some answers are becoming apparent. A small wasp was imported to help control exotic gypsy moth outbreaks and the wasp turned to killing native moths. BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) sprays have been used with to kill gypsy moths but the bacterium also kills most butterfly and moth caterpillars.

Last summer, Skip’s moth livestock died suddenly. He asked what might have killed them. I suggested a virus, fungus, or bacteria might be responsible. They cleaned all their cages with bleach and replaced most so this year’s crop would be protected. All was going well when I left on vacation. When I got home, their livestock had died and turned to black mush. This time they discovered the cause.

Their neighbor sprayed his yard with insecticide so plants would not have leaf damage. The spray was not necessary to keep the plants healthy but it helped their appearance. Plant-eating insects are a nuisance but like mosquitoes for us, they do not normally cause health concerns. The neighbor does not want the expense or effort of tenting the plants for spraying so the agent drifts to Skip’s yard. It is a classic example of different goals by neighbors. Skips wants healthy plants, abundant insects, birds, and the sounds of life. The neighbor desires visual beauty and a bug free yard.

I noticed the CS Post had my niche article encouraging life in the yard and on the next page an article for how to have “More beauty and less beasts in your yard.” At least that article suggested protecting beneficial species in addition to offering fertilizer suggestions that provide conditions for plant health to protect itself from pests.

The decision to love and encourage life on one’s property is a personal decision that might help maintain biodiversity on Earth. Some view it as religious creation stewardship. Most of us want to enjoy time outside without being eaten by deer flies, mosquitoes, or being stung by wasps nesting near the back door. I destroyed a wasp nest near the door and mow an area around the house to effectively keep mosquitoes at a distance. I use pesticides and herbicides minimally. My goal is to be minimally destructive to life, sharing my yard and avoid negatively impacting human neighbors or the creatures that share their yards.

For Skip and his neighbor, it is unfortunate. The neighbor enjoys the freedom to use pesticides on his property without concern regarding chemical drift to neighbors’ yards. As a result, Skip lost his livestock, lost projects for his son, as well as a multitude of wild insects. Hummingbirds ceased coming and other birds left due to reduced food abundance. Butterflies are not visiting flowers. The neighbor’s yard is picture perfect but lacks a love for life. A personal nature niche in life can be social or anti-social in regards to love for our neighbors and wildlife. In an earlier Nature Niche I noted 51 species of butterflies live in my yard. How many live in yours? Encourage sharing your yard with wildlife.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Kayaking, canoeing, and wildlife

OUT-RangerSteveMuellerRanger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Taking to open water in a kayak or canoe can be a quiet pleasurable wildlife encounter. There are liveries in Rockford and Newaygo for easy floats on the Rogue or Muskegon rivers. For those with their own vessels, the opportunities are greater, for one can be put in and taken out at various locations. A bit farther away, one can kayak the Glass River, from the Michigan Audubon Otis Sanctuary in Barry County near Hastings. Go north to canoe the Pine River for a challenge or Little Manistee with more moderate water in the Cadillac region. Canoeing the Les Cheneaux Islands in northern Lake Huron can provide a protected paddle on big water, where the islands help calm waves. I am not after the thrill of white caps or white water but seek wildlife instead.

Karen and I enjoy quiet calm wildlife viewing on our trips. When I was a teenager our church youth group goal was splashing, dumping, and cooling on a hot summer’s day, but our family paddles were quiet and wildlife oriented. Boy scout trips were longer and included over night camping. A most mysterious experience in my life was while camping along the Rifle River on a scout trip. That night we heard the sound of large bubbles emanating from deep within the earth. For several years I heard the unnerving sound with no clue to its origin but it seemed extraterrestrial. The sound has become considerably more rare but can be heard in scattered locations if one is near a sizable marsh. The maker is the American Bittern, a bird in the heron family. I have heard it described as a thunder bird because of its sound but more frequently it is described as sounding like a water pump. I prefer my bubble description.

Other herons are croakers and the last time Julianne, Charlie, Karen and I canoed together we heard and saw both Green and Great Blue Herons. Many ducks paddled along near the shore at a distance. Belted Kingfishers make their rattle call as they fly ahead or back over us in route to favorite fishing locations on their family claim on the river. Choice locations for kingfishers include sandy bluffs where they dig six-foot deep nesting tunnels in the bank.

A bit harder to see without binoculars are the warblers, flycatchers, and sparrows that sing vibrant songs along shrubby or forested shores. They are present because mayflies, caddisflies, dragonflies and many other insects have found healthy nature niches. It is always a joy to watch the aerial excellence of Common Whitetails, darners, and baskettail dragonflies capturing insects. We try to disturb fly fishers as little as possible as we float past them with our paddles stationary. They are casting special hand made flies in hopes of a good sparring with a fish before releasing it back, so the fish can find the real insect that is being imitated on the end of a line. Depending on whether the stream is catch and release or not, the fish may become a great human meal.

I like to paddle near shore to see many butterflies species nectar on a host of beautiful flowers. Joe Pye Weed, Swamp Milkweed, and other flowers abound. Bird watching in May and June are best when bird song is at its peak and they are easier to see. We like August because it is warm, usually more sunny, and biting insects have subsided. A monthly, weekly, or even daily canoe venture would be nice. If only I could live a thousand lives at once to be exploring a thousand outdoor adventures in a thousand different natures niches simultaneously.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Newaygo Butterfly Count

The Newaygo Butterfly Count was held on July 27, 2013 in the Manistee National Forest. Six participants from age 8 to seniors enjoyed the two track roads in Newaygo County. None of the observers were from Newaygo County. All came from our region. The weather was not ideal but we had great observations and good company. The temperature started at 63 but it was cloudy. If the sun were shining, the cooler temperature would be prevent many butterflies from flying. The temperature rose to 65 but dropped to 60 in the afternoon. Winds picked up and that keeps butterflies low. Our observation sites are somewhat protected from the wind so butterflies were active at nectar sources. We saw 15 adult species and additional butterflies in early stages of life. 105 adult individual were counted and 20 early stage individuals.

While observing butterflies, we take time to enjoy others encounters along the way. We saw a Map Turtle that is Michigan Threatened. Sandhill Cranes flew over and many other species of birds were heard and seen. We spend time looking at wild flowers. Several Disjunct species were seen including the Meadow Beauty. A Disjunct species is one that is about 500 miles from other known populations. The ones we saw have their relatives living along the Atlantic coast. These are mostly likely relics that were stranded here after glaciation 8000 thousand years ago and have managed to survive generation after generation. Our nature outings are great opportunities for time in the outdoors with family and friends.


Newaygo Butterfly Count Sightings

Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars- 2

Orange Sulphur – 1

American Copper – 2

Eastern Tailed Blue – 1

Karner Blue Butterfly – 5 Federally Endangered Species

Aphrodite Fritillary – 8

Silver-bordered Fritillary – 4

Pearl Crescent – 5

Red-spotted Purple – 13

Red-spotted Purple eggs – 6

Viceroy – 1

Northern Pearly Eye – 2

Appalachian Eyed Brown – 2

Common Wood Nymph – 4

Monarch – 1 caterpillar

Silver-spotted Skipper caterpillars – 9

Duskywing species caterpillar larva – 2

Northern Broken Dash – 20

Little Glassywing – 4

Common Roadside Skipper – 3

Dun Skipper – 30


Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Bears and Butterflies

OUT-Nature-niche-Chestnut-saplingBy Ranger Steve Mueller


Someone photographed a black bear southeast of Cedar Springs but I did not get to see the picture. There was a report of one crossing Northland Drive. A bear also crossed Red Pine Drive south of the Howard Christensen Nature Center. Bears are usually shy and fear people. They are moving south in Michigan as forests regenerate. Many of us saw pictures of the bear and cubs that were found near Ada.

It is exciting that native plant communities are recovering well enough to support large wildlife that was present a century ago. In many places, people have bears as neighbors without problems. Sometimes problems develop because we do not properly store garbage or we do things that attract bears into unsafe situations for both people and bears.

We just returned from a vacation where we had the opportunity to hike in bear country. We did not fear. Instead we followed recommended safety procedures. It was a thrill to have the opportunity to see wildlife not normally seen at home. We saw Grizzly bears, Black Bears, Bighorn Sheep, Mountain Goats, Moose, Pine Martin, and several other mammals we do not see in the Cedar Springs area. That is a purpose for the trip as well as a chance to get into wild areas for natural beauty and hiking.

While hiking wild country, I thought about the wild country in our local nature niches where wildlife goes unnoticed. Most are not dangerous but some like mosquitoes cause more problems and discomfort than bears. Some wildlife provides great beauty and interest for those that make an effort to observe them in our yards. Allowing part of yards to be claimed by nature gives butterflies and other interesting wildlife a chance to abound.

Fifty-one species of butterflies have been documented at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary where I live. Many butterfly species can be found around our homes if we look for them. There will be more butterflies in yards where native wild plants are allowed to grow. Extensive lawns, manicured gardens with pesticides and fertilizers discourage butterfly survival. Allowing native nature niches to establish brings beauty and interest to occupy one’s lifetime.

One does not need to spend large sums of money or travel to discover new and unusual species. One can allow nature to share the home site. Daily walks in the yard will provide opportunities of enjoyment and endless discovery. I am continually finding new plants and animals that I did not know shared my abode. A few years ago I discovered the rare American Chestnut on my property. I lived here for almost 35 years and had not discovered it on our few acres. This spring while leading the Michigan Botanical Club on a flower walk we found Purple Avens that had also evaded me.

In your neighborhood, one could probably find 50 butterfly species, learn about their habitat needs, life styles, and habits. As a seven-year-old, I collected and raised caterpillars. It was amazing to watch how fast they grew, observe caterpillar growth, pupation, and finally the emergence of an adult butterfly. The fascination led to my career as Ranger Steve. I still want to share the wonders of life that occur around us everyday.

Traveling to see large mammals in national parks or other wild areas is a rare opportunity. The exuberance of life that shares our yards is an easy healthy and inexpensive family experience. There are many local nature organizations offering support. Howard Christensen Nature Center, West Michigan Butterfly Association, Junior and Senior Audubon, Wild ONES, Land Conservancy of West Michigan, Isaak Walton League, and more are here to assist your enjoyment.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Emerald Ash Borer

Ash firewood with EAB damage. Photo by Troy Kimoto, www.forestryimages.com

Ash firewood with EAB damage.
Photo by Troy Kimoto, www.forestryimages.com

Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche
By Ranger Steve Mueller

Cedar Springs removed Ash Trees that were killed by the exotic Emerald Ash Borer. Different species were used to replace killed trees. This is happening in cities, towns, and villages throughout Michigan and other areas. People’s yards have dying ash trees. The epidemic is not normal in a healthy functioning ecosystem.
So what is not healthy about the ecosystem in Cedar Springs and other affected regions? It is not a new story but it one that evades many people’s attention. Early European people unknowingly carried diseases that were not usually lethal to them but were devastating and killed most Native Americans. Native Americans had not developed immunities over a period of centuries and suddenly introduced diseases caused massive deaths among native peoples.
A fungal blight unknowingly brought to North America almost completely eliminated the American Chestnut trees from the Oak-Hickory-Chestnut dominated forest in eastern US. The chestnut had not evolved with the fungus and they had developed no defenses. The remaining eastern forest is now described as Oak-Hickory Forest. The American Chestnut was an important species in the economy of early America and would still be if it continued to thrive.
Elm trees were devastated by the exotic Dutch the Elm Disease. Again the species had not developed immunities. Each of those species has unique nature niche stories regarding their demise. A common factor that all share is human caused introduction of exotics resulted in the ecological and economic loss. Many native species depended on those species and when they died it cause death or reduction for many other additional species.
Last summer I noticed the Emerald Ash Borer had infected and killed trees on neighbors’ property. I knew for years it was matter of time of before our area would experience massive deaths. I was told an inoculation costing about $35 per tree could save the tree. Repeated treatment every couple years would be necessary. With well over a hundred large ash trees at Ody Brook it not a feasible option.
This past winter I noticed most of the large ash trees at Ody Brook were riddled by woodpeckers. They remove bark on the trunks to feast on emerald ash borer larvae. Unfortunately, the help from woodpeckers was too little too late. The adult borers are members of the flat-headed woodborer beetle family. Many native species of borers thrive here with checks and balances that prevent them from wiping out their food source. Not so for the exotic species.
The emerald beetles first appeared in the Detroit and it is thought they probably arrived in packing material. The population was noticed in 2002 and rapidly expanded killing tens of millions of dollars worth of ash trees in Michigan. They eliminated trees that provide food for hundreds of native insects, birds, and mammals. The adults emerge from under the bark in spring and feed on ash leaves where damage is minor and not noticeable. Females lay more than 100 eggs on the bark. Eggs hatch about two weeks later and borrow through the bark to feed on the phloem. Phloem is the layer that transports water, minerals, and food upward to branches. This is where deadly damage occurs.
The larvae in the phloem cause lethal damage and treetops show evidence of dying. Within a couple years, the trees die. Ash trees will sprout new shoots from roots and it will help prevent complete loss of the tree species. When the shoot sprouts get large enough, they too will be killed. Google Emerald Ash Borer for details about the insect’s life cycle and impact on our economy and nature niches.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.

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Rogue River Butterfly Count

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

By Ranger Steve Mueller


The Rogue River Butterfly Count was held on June 23, 2013 and sometimes one cannot get an adequate look to identify a species. This was a case with a hairstreak in a tree. The North American butterfly Association rules allow us to count the hairstreak species provided no other hairstreaks were identified to species. This was the only hairstreak sighted. It is early in the season for this group of butterflies. Most hairstreaks will not emerge from the chrysalis until near July 4. The lone unidentified duskywing is a species that is usually done flying by this date because it is more of a spring butterfly. This year’s count was held early but we still did well with 24 species and 212 individuals sighted.

A cool spring delayed normal flowering about three weeks and insect emergence was also delayed. Life has been playing catch up and flower blooming dates were almost on schedule by late June. When observing butterflies we pay attention to flowers, birds, mammals, and all life to make the day as fun a possible. We got great looks at a Green Heron and several other species. Consider joining us for the Newaygo count on July 27, at 9 a.m.

This day our focus was on butterfly nature niches. We saw the following species and the number sighted follows each name.

Rogue River Butterfly Count Sightings

Black Swallowtail – 2

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail -10

Spicebush Swallowtail – 3

Cabbage White – 25

Clouded Sulphur -1

Orange Sulphur – 1

American Copper – 1

Hairstreak species – 1

Summer Azure – 8

Summer Azure egg- 1 observed as laid

Pearl Crescent – 2

Baltimore Checkerspot -3

Eastern Comma – 1

Mourning Cloak -1

American Lady – 1

Red-spotted Purple – 2

Viceroy – 3

Little Wood Satyr – 53

Monarch – 3

Silver-spotted Skipper – 1

Duskywing species – 1

European Skipper – 81

Indian Skipper – 3

Peck’s Skipper – 1

Hobomok Skipper – 1

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Allegan Butterfly Count

This Little Wood Satyr butterfly was one of many species of butterflies seen in the Allegan Butterfly Count.

This Little Wood Satyr butterfly was one of many species of butterflies seen in the Allegan Butterfly Count.

The West Michigan Butterfly Association butterfly counts are underway, with one in the Allegan State Game Area on June 21. Twenty-four species and 191 individuals were sighted. The preference is to hold the count closer to the 4th of July when second broods and summer broods of butterflies are on the wing. Personal schedules made it necessary to hold the count a bit early this year and several species had not emerged for flight. It was still between flight periods for some. No fritillaries, one hairstreak, and few sulphurs were flying. Bog Coppers were not flying yet. Some butterflies do not have a spring brood and others do not fly until summer is well in progress.

The solstice day count was good and enjoyable. Things like the federally dndangered Karner Blue were not flying yet. Several hairstreaks like the Hickory, Edward’s, and Banded will soon be flying in large numbers. An abundance of sulphurs instead of a just a few will be emerging from pupae. A list of 24 species and numbers seen follows. The counts are a great opportunity to learn butterflies and to associate them with nature niche habitat needs. The results from the Rogue River State Game Area Count that begins at the Howard Christensen Nature Center will be reported next week. The Newaygo Count in the Manistee National Forest will be held on July 27th at 9 a.m. We meet at the Plumb’s Grocery at the corner of M-82 and M-37. Contact me if you plan to participate because weather could alter the date.

Allegan Butterfly Species Sightings

Giant Swallowtail -1

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – 5

Spicebush Swallowtail – 7

Cabbage White – 43

Clouded Sulphur -4

Orange Sulphur -1

Purplish Copper -1

Edward’s Hairstreak -1

Eastern Tailed Blue – 2

Summer Azure – 6

Pearl Crescent -1

Comma species undetermined -1

American Lady -1

Red Admiral -1

Red-spotted Purple – 12

Viceroy -1

Little Wood Satyr – 28

Monarch – 2

Silver-spotted Skipper – 10

Southern Cloudywing – 6

Northern Cloudywing -1

European Skipper – 30

Indian Skipper – 7

Hobomok Skipper – 6

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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Ranger Steve’s Nature Niche

By Ranger Steve Mueller

An opossum playing dead.

An opossum playing dead.

We were returning from walking Ody Brook trails with Kyyo Tae our dog. It was fortunate that Kyyo was leashed when we arrived at our compost pile. As soon as I saw a white face with beady eyes watching us, I said to hold Kyyo and reached for the leash myself. At that moment Kyyo saw the opossum and ran toward it. Karen quickly tightened the leash as I grabbed it to restrain the dog.

Fortunately, we kept the animals apart. Kyyo pulled toward the animal as Karen forced him to the house. Opossums are most active at night but it was not dusk on this dark day.

The opossum was grown but small so I think it was in its second year. Interestingly most do not live more than two years. When Karen and Kyyo left the area, I remained to watch the animal because it appeared to be moving strangely. Opossums move slowly with a bit of a waddle but this one’s movement was peculiar. It turned and began walking toward a brush pile. Oddly, it was propelling itself with only its front legs and dragging its hindquarters.

The back legs were limp and trailing behind as the animal moved slowly. I have seen them play opossum. When threatened, they faint and appear dead. They lay on their side with tongue out and eyes open. This is thought to be an induced paralysis that helps survive an attack. Most predators are not interested in dead animals. The opossum may even defecate a foul smelling substance that further repels predators.

I once came upon an opossum and it apparently “dropped dead” right in front of me. I decided to lie beside it until it became active but it out lasted me. After about 15 minutes, I got up and left. Later I read they may remain unconscious for four hours more. That time the animal did not defecate the reported foul smelling substance.

This recent encounter was unlike any other encounter I have experienced in that only the hindquarters seemed to be “dead.” I tired to find descriptions in the literature that reported other instances of only part of the animal showing paralysis and could not find any reports. Apparently this animal had previously been seriously injured.

The opossum was standing still when we first saw it. It was eating vegetable discards when we happened by. It stood still and watched us. When the dog lunged, it did not pass out as expected. When the primary danger from our dog was removed, the animal slowly turned and tried to walk away but dragged its hindquarters. I suspect its survival would be short. Life is tough but its death would nourish other life.

Coyotes frequently bring joy to our ears and bring a quick end for injured animals, mice, and garden raiding rabbits. We relish the abundance of life and appreciate a good balance of predators and prey in nature niches. There is only an abundance of life because predators and scavengers recycle nutrients and keep the flow of nutrients and energy on the move.

Vehicles on the road at Ody Brook killed two opossums during recent weeks. Road kill is more distressing because animals are not killed for the purpose of nutritional needs like is done by coyotes.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at the odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433.


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